American Militarism and White Empire: Thoughts on Peace on the Korean Peninsula

By Guest Contributor: Ju-Hyun Park (@Hermit_Hwarang)

A month ago, I woke up to news I thought I might never hear in my lifetime: the leaders of North and South Korea had, after meeting at an historic summit in Panmunjom at the DMZ, announced their intention to formally end the Korean War and lay plans for reunification.

I accomplished nothing I’d intended to that morning. I called my mother and sister to talk about the news. I read and reread the declaration and watched whatever clips I could find. I celebrated and speculated over group chat with Korean friends. And, I cried. A lot.

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(Re)Constructing Asian Masculinity: Trump and the “Racial Castration” of Kim Jong Un

Donald Trump (left) and Kim Jong Un (right). (Photo credit: Counter Currents)

The specter of war between North and South Korea has dominated headlines, particularly as President Donald Trump increasingly matches the bellicose posturing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un word-for-word (and tweet-for-tweet). Under the best of circumstances, the precarious relationship between North and South Korea requires precise and thoughtful diplomatic handling; that is no more true now that North Korea approaches the threshold of achieving nuclear weapons.

A better president might develop a program to halt North Korea’s nuclear advancement with a measured balance of diplomacy and international sanction. A better president would understand the devastatingly high price of war, and would seek to avoid that at all costs.

But, America elected Donald Trump, a self-aggrandizing buffoon who sees the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula as just another opportunity to provoke Kim Jong Un with belittling — and highly racially emasculating — language.

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North Korea releases Kenneth Bae and another detained American

Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).
Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).

Kenneth Bae, the Korean American detained in North Korea, has been released by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Bae’s family had just commemorated the second anniversary of Bae’s arrest and imprisonment.

Bae was released along with Matthew Todd Miller, an American also detained in North Korea for the last seven months.

No details are yet available for why the DPRK released Bae and Miller, but this is exceptionally good news and I’m excited to help welcome Bae home to America.

Another American possibly detained in North Korea under state’s persecution of Christians

A North Korean soldier patrols the N Korean-Chinese border at the Yalu River. (Photo credit: VOA News)
A North Korean soldier patrols the N Korean-Chinese border at the Yalu River. (Photo credit: VOA News)

Just days after I posted an urge to the US State Department to do more to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, it looks like there may now be a second American citizen slated to share in Mr. Bae’s fate.

Last night, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a state-run North Korean news outlet, announced that a second American citizen — Jeffrey Edward Fowle — has been detained in North Korea. Fowle entered North Korea on April 29 with a private tour group but was arrested from his group for “perpetrat[ing] activities that violated the laws of [North Korea’s] republic”, according to KCNA. CNN cites Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that Fowle was arrested for leaving a bible in his hotel room, citing anonymous sources. That report has not been confirmed elsewhere.

Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after taking pictures of starving North Korean orphans — the North Korean government alleges Bae was also using his North Korean tourism company to support the country’s network of underground Christian churches and as part of an “underground railroad” to help refugees flee the country. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, North Korea views Christianity as a “serious threat” that subverts the totalitarian regime of the government.

Bae has been languishing since November 2012 in a North Korean prison camp where he is likely suffering starvation, abuse and torture, leading to a significant deterioration in his health.

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In the wake of Bowe Bergdahl’s release, why aren’t we doing more for Kenneth Bae?

Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).
Korean American Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).

Earlier this week, the Obama Administration secretly secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US serviceman still listed as missing-in-action in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Bergdahl was held captive for 5 years by the Taliban under unknown conditions, and is currently in hospital under medical supervision; the long-lasting psychological and emotional scars of his imprisonment are even more unclear. What we do know is that Bergdahl’s release was initiated in part due to concerns that he would likely die if he remained with his Taliban captors.

In order to negotiate Bergdahl’s release, President Obama agreed to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. This deal is being widely criticized by Republicans for bypassing Congress and for emboldening terrorists through negotiation. They argue that Bergdahl was a deserter,who did not deserve US intervention on his behalf. They criticize that this deal legitimized the Taliban.

But I fail to understand the alternative — to allow a man to die because we are willing to declare war on a terrorist organization but cannot recognize them across a negotiation table?

Regardless of the circumstances of his capture, Bowe Bergdahl is a US citizen and serviceman and I believe that the US government has a moral responsibility (if not necessarily the legal one, as I learned from Snoopy this morning) to advocate on behalf of its citizenry when their lives are unlawfully at-risk overseas. In this case, the US government had the means by which to save the life of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and they took it.

What I want to know is this: if the Obama administration is willing to take steps to secure the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl from the hands of the Taliban, why have they still done so little to help free Kenneth Bae, a US citizen and civilian who has been illegitimately imprisoned in a North Korean labour camp for nearly two years — an innocent American citizen who is likely being held under conditions so deplorable they violate all contemporary definitions of human rights?

If President Obama will save Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, why won’t he save Kenneth Bae?

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